Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Is Medieval Latin like Classic Latin?

Kind of, depends, who is writing when.

The least like Classic Latin is when Gregory of Tours, Fredegar of Tours and Jordanes write a Latin which is the spelling of the proto-romance spoken language.

Meanwhile, in England Venerable Bede writes a Latin which has already the status of Classic language over there, which for more than a century and a half has been learned as a second language.

And with Alcuin, this one comes to France, triggering a "language divorce" between the spoken and written languages of St Gregory of Tours:

  • the written language acquires a new pronunciation from England, along with better mastery of the grammatical details, becomes what is usually called "Medieval Latin", that is, he Latin of Venerable Bede;
  • the spoken language acquires new much more phonetic spellings, first sporadically at Strasburg Oaths, and privately as priests prepare their sermons, later systematically, this becomes what is now known as Provençal and French.

Either way, both Medieval Latin proper (English invention involving St. Bede and Bl. Alcuin) and a Late Ancient Latin in the Middle Ages (product of language drift in France, Spain, written by St Gregory, unknown Fredegar, half known Jordanes), will involve words with other uses than Classical ones, and with words borrowed from other languages or hybrids (gyrovagus in St Benedict's rule is a given when it comes to these).

Imagine you wanted to read Judeo-Spanish, well, one step would be to familiarise yourself with one of the Latin alphabet spellings, or learning to read Estrangelo. But is that enough?

I just looked up "blancura" in a standard Spanish dictionary. It means, predictably, whiteness. There is a less predictable sense which is not mentioned there. Perhaps because it doesn't exist in Standard Spanish. In Judeo-Spanish, "blankura" is sometimes used by women as an euphemism for "karbón". Or as a prophecy, since once it's burning, some will be red, some will be yellow, some will be white.

As long as you think "blankura" is - like "blancura" - simply "whiteness", that's incompetent in Judeo-Spanish. By the way, I'm just a beginner there.

Also, a Spanish dictionary will not tell you that "sik sik" is Judeo-Spanish for "often" (borrowed from Turkish).

Well, there is a very similar displacement between Classic and Medieval usages of Latin.

That is why in Sweden or Germany at least, Medieval Spanish is a separate study, it presumes you are already familiar with Classic Latin, but you take separate courses just for that.

Is this the case in France? Or do you have to get to a Medieval history section of a history faculty to discover it?

Hans Georg Lundahl
St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

By the way, I looked up "status" in Niermeyer online:

1. stalle — choir-stall.
2. étal — market-stall.
3. poste d'observation et de combat — guard-post.
4. estage de château — castle ward.
5. mesure de longueur — linear measure.
6. *condition juridique des personnes — legal status of persons.
7. (ni fallor) progéniture d'un serf — progeny, offspring of a serf.
8. chevage — poll-tax.
9. validité — validity.
10. *état — state.
11. inventaire — inventory.

More than I knew of, though I knew that "state" was not a Classic sense, since in Classic times that was expressed (or roughly similar was expressed) as "civitas".

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